What is culture shock?
Living in a foreign country is exciting, adventurous and fulfilling. However, as with all daring endeavours, it can also have its downsides. When moving from your home country to a new and unfamiliar one, you may experience some uncomfortable emotions. This disorientating feeling is a consequence of leaving behind your family, friends and everything about your home life that you value and being surrounded, instead, by things that are new and unknown. All aspects of your new life, from the food to the weather, can give rise to feelings of frustration, worry and sadness.
Who experiences culture shock?
Anyone who lives in a new country might experience culture shock. This includes exchange students, ex-pats and travellers. Culture shock is only truly experienced by people who live in a new country for an extended period.
The stages of culture shock
Culture shock is a process, which has several stages to get through. The four main stages of culture shock are; honeymoon, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance.
When you first arrive in a foreign country, everything will feel new and exciting. You will enjoy all the fascinating sights, sounds and foods.
After a while, you may start to get irritated with some aspects of the country; whether it be the food, weather, clothes or customs. You may compare the culture of your new country unfavourably to your home one.
You will slowly begin to get used to the culture, traditions and customs of the country you’re living in. You’ll develop some strategies to cope with certain things that were difficult, to begin with. For example, you may have learnt enough of the language to get by in day-to-day life.
You eventually learn to appreciate the country you’re living in. You can accept that, although it may be different from your home country, it’s not any worse or better and you begin to appreciate aspects of both countries.
Culture shock is a very normal part of the experience of moving to a new country. With time, you will move through the stages and reach the point where you feel happy and comfortable with the situation you find yourself in.
However, there are some things that you can do to make the process easier for yourself.
Read on to discover the top ten ways to cope with culture shock.
1) Get informed
One great way to reduce the effects of culture shock is to read up on the country you are going to be living in. Before you set off on your trip, research the culture, traditions and customs of the country. This will allow you to be prepared and means that you will not have to face too many surprises upon arrival.
2) Learn the language
Learning the language is another thing that you can do, before even touching down in the country. Try to find a phrasebook, or better still a course, so you can learn a few words and phrases to help you get around when you first arrive. Doing a language course in the country you’re moving to is also a great idea, as you can practice what you learn immediately.
3) Be Open
Having the right attitude will make all the difference on your trip abroad. There are likely to be things about the country you’re visiting that you don’t like and it’s normal to want to make comparisons to your home country. However, if you go with an attitude of openness, it’s easier to accept things as they are without trying to pass judgement on them. Although this won’t change the situation, it will make you feel more relaxed about it.
4) Stay connected
Homesickness is a big contributor to culture shock. If you’re feeling down because you’re missing your family and friends it can make you feel negative towards your surroundings. Make an effort to ring or skype your family regularly. It’s important to tell them about both the good and bad parts of your experience so that, even from abroad, they can be your support network.
5) Bring home with you
Okay, this is easier said than done but there may be a few home comforts that you can bring with you for the moments in which you need to be reminded of home. For example, I never go anywhere abroad without bringing some PG Tips English teabags with me.
6) Get chatting
There is no better way to experience the best of a country’s culture than by meeting local people. Whether they take you along to local festivals, or invite you around for a meal with their family, spending time with local people allows you to experience a place in an authentic way, not just as a tourist.
7) Go exploring
If you’re unhappy, it can be easy to hole up in your house and wish the time away. However, there’s no doubt that you’ll regret this once you return home. Get out and explore the country you’re living in. Make a list of all the cities, tourist attractions and local beauty spots that you want to visit and try to tick them all off during your stay.
8) Develop a routine
When you first move to a new country, it will feel like a holiday. You will be having too much fun to worry about eating well and getting enough sleep. This is fine for a short period but your lifestyle will eventually catch up with you and your body and mind will suffer. To combat this, be proactive by developing a good, healthy routine early on. Try to get eight hours sleep a night, exercise regularly and eat a healthy balanced diet.
9) Meet other internationals
By getting to know other people who have also moved to the country from abroad, you can develop a good support network of people who are in a similar situation to you. It’s much easier to share your frustrations, worries and problems with these friends as they will truly understand what you’re going through.
10) Be kind to yourself
It’s important to remember that it’s okay to sometimes be lonely or unhappy. When you’re living abroad, you might feel a lot of pressure to make the most of every moment and to live your best life. However, this isn’t always possible. Living abroad can be a challenging experience and you will be confronted with lots of new situations. This can sometimes be completely overwhelming. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time to adjust.
Living abroad is an amazing experience and one that, if you get the chance to do, you should jump at. As with all good things in life, it’s not without its challenges. However, the difficulties of such an experience are part of what makes it so worthwhile. By experiencing culture shock and making your way through the stages, you will undoubtedly grow as a person and learn more about yourself and your values.